Updated: June 29, 2006
What is Caesar III?
Caesar was one of the many games that I played in the late 90s and early years of the 21st century. It was a great and riveting game that kept me glued to the PC screen for many many hours. It has a certain appeal that makes me come back to it over and over again, almost a decade after it was made.
I was first introduced to the game by its two-episode demo on a CD of another game, which I do not remember now, given to me by a friend during my army services (smuggling penguins into Norway). I instantly fell in love with the game. Later on, my girlfriend at that time bought me a double pack, which included both Caesar III and Pharaoh (a very similar game, happening in ancient Egypt). Later still, I bought the Cleopatra expansion pack for Pharaoh. I still have them all, and meanwhile my girlfriend has also been upgraded to my wife. I hope she does not read this, because I'll certainly get kicked in the nut.
Caesar III is a real-time strategy that revolves around Roman culture and life in one of the Roman provinces in the period of roughly 100BC to around 100AD. The player assumes the role of a city governor and has to build his / her city, while bearing in mind all the little things that make a true ancient city work - food, commerce, sanitation, police, enemy invasions, entertainment.
The player has a choice between Campaign with 10 missions of City Construction Kit, a time-unlimited, objectives-unlimited free-style building of cities in various provinces. I tried the Campaign and found it too difficult for my taste. After 3 or 4 missions, I retired in favor of the free building.
Truth to be told, I'm not a wuss or particularly untalented player; Caesar III is a rather hard game. It's easy to start and build, but achieving higher levels of housing in the cities, earning money and keeping everyone's wishes satisfied is quite a task. Caesar III has no difficulty levels. There's only one - hard.
What's a Roman city all about?
Well, in Caesar, a scenario begins when you assign housing plots for some tenants to move in. Wandering plebes decide to give you a try and move in. And like people anywhere, they instantly have demands. To allow the houses to evolve and make the residents prosper, the player has to do only the following:
- Provide them with water supply, for which he needs aqueducts and reservoirs.
- Provide them with different types of food, for which farms, granaries, markets, and fishing wharfs are needed.
- Provide them with entertainment and education, for which a total of 4 types of entertainment venues and 3 types of education institutions exist.
- Provide them with religion, including 5 gods and their temples, plus oracles, for which precious marble must be quarried.
- Provide them with good health services, including doctors, barbers, bath houses, and hospitals.
- Provide them with means to make a living, by working in iron ore mines, clay pits, timber yards, olive farms, and vineyards, and turning these raw materials into products in a variety of workshops.
All of the above in no particular order. And then, the player must make sure all the buildings are safe from collapsing and that there is no crime. He / she ... Let's just drop the double gender ... it's wearying. Let's assume that "he" applies to all equally. Let's move on.
Well, he also must pay wages to his workers and collect taxes at the Senate and forii, conduct commerce with other cities by land and sea routes by exporting surplus of his local industry and import goods that cannot be found in his city. If there are enemies around, he must build an army to defend his city.
He must carefully balance between the wages, the taxes and the overall spendings of his city lest he provokes the wrath of the Caesar, who might send in his legions to teach him a lesson. He must keep his people satisfied or no more immigrants will come to the city and employment problems might occur. Likewise, he must keep the un-employment down to prevent riots and bad mood. Gods must be appeased at all times. And there are clay pit floods, earthquakes, landslides, and storms to account for, plus disease, fires, wild animals, festivals, sundry expenses, tribute, gifts to Rome, and requests from Caesar.
Beauty before prosperity
And then, there's the "small" issue of desirability and access. Apparently, Roman citizens were very spoiled and would not live in noisy, dirty neighborhoods - or at least, the upper classes would not. Thus, if the player wants to have posh plebes in his city, let alone the patricians, he must build a nice city. This means separating industry from living quarters, and building a plenty of gardens and statues.
One of the game's strongest points is indeed access. All houses need access to different commodities to gain from them. And this access means a worker from one of the services actually walking by the house. Each building has its workers and they provide the services by following the city streets and getting confused at every intersection. And thus, city planning becomes a crucial matter.
For example, placing lots of temples and markets near a house block will make no difference if the workers from these buildings, the priest and the fat market lady, cannot reach the houses to offer their goods. Careful building, and very importantly, the planning of streets means the difference between a successful city and a slum. It is quite possible that a city with one layout will be 10 times more thriving than another city with twice the workers and three times the buildings just because of the way the streets are organized. Smart planning of the city makes all the difference in the world.
Keep it simple stupid
Before I mastered the concept of "Keep it simple stupid", I build streets with lots and lots of junctions. And pretty soon, saw my houses devolve because priests and market ladies could not reach them, saw gladiators and actors wandering lost in the industrial areas, far far from the intended locations, saw lots of buildings go up in flames or crash down collapsing, because my engineers and prefects were often too busy slaloming the snaky mazes of streets that I built for them.
Eventually, I learned to build linear and circular cities, with buildings spaced at reasonable distances from another for maximal coverage, industry and farms at every corner of the city, and lots of gardens. And I managed, after struggling with muddy little shacks, to build great cities, with villas and even palaces. I even built cities that had 7-8 Luxury Palaces (the best houses that you can build) at once, more than 10,000 people in the province and hundreds of thousands of dinarii in cash.
Caesar III Map Editor
And then, I discovered the Caesar III Map Editor (link at the bottom of the article). Caesar III Map Editor allowed me to take my favorite City Construction Kits and modify them any which way I pleased. And pretty soon, I started building maps that had everything in them, including the Triumphal Arch, the finest of monuments that one could build, and which was, till then, only available in the Campaign.
I made maps where I fought Carthagians mounted on elephants and I made maps where I had to send my legions abroad, to assist the Caesar in his campaigns. If and when my legions returned victorious, the game allowed the Triumphal Arch to be built.
Caesar III is a great game in all aspects. It has a very pleasing look. The red-roofed Roman houses just look so right. That's one of the little reasons that made me play Caesar long after I have gotten somewhat bored with Pharaoh and Cleopatra (after building every possible monument). Pharaoh always looked cartoonish-like.
The graphics is great. The music is very pleasing, especially the slightly apocalyptic drum beat. The game has a very good pace, and is varied enough to keep you occupied for a long time. If you're into real-time strategy and like to build, it becomes addictive. Today, the hardware requirements sound funny (Pentium I or II, but what does it matter?). But even in the old days (pre-NT), the game has always run smoothly and quickly, without bugs or glitches. The only annoying things are that you had to install it in a folder of its own choosing and you had to reboot after install. Unfortunately, this game can no longer be found in stores. If you're lucky enough to find it somewhere, buy it. And then, if your OS is too demanding, install it in VMware Player like I did and revive the history.
You can read how to install the game in a virtual machine (if it won't run natively).
You can find a great deal about the game at Caesar III Heaven.
You can also download the Caesar Map Editor at Roman World.